A New Way of Being

A year now.

For a year now, I’ve been trying a new way of being. It’s a slower life, one that allows a tiny splash of grace to trickle into the moments that are frenzied, like when the dogs are barking and the kitchen timer just went off, and the toddler peed on the rug (again). It has a lot to do with small changes, and a few big ones, but mostly it’s just a tiny shift in my head, a pinch of salt on my eggs.

For me, it’s asking forgiveness when I’d rather retreat, or run, or stack the invisible hurts like a house of cards – my own defense tower. It’s offering discipline with grace and gentleness when I’d rather yell and shake my fists, correcting my toddler with sheer will, or control, or guilt-inducing words. It’s finding a sacred beauty in the endless cycle of cooking and washing and feeding, cooking and washing and feeding. (When really, I’d rather just read another Didion.)

It’s trying and failing and failing again, a tiny hummingbird flapping her wings over and over and over until – by God’s grace – a gust of second wind arrives in the form of steaming hot coffee, a friend’s advice, a warm bath.

It’s disorganized and not at all seamless, like an untrained symphony – frazzled conductor, pitchy instruments.

Practicing this new way of being – this slowing, this mindfulness – is just that: a practice. It’s the learning of a new sport, the fitting of a new dress – a deep, intrinsic mix of fancy footwork and endless alterations. It requires much of me, of my time and energy and focus. It is work, a beautiful and worthy work, but work nonetheless. And on some days, or cold nights, it feels selfish.

I have a friend who is a singer/songwriter, and she once said to me that there are times in which it takes an entire season to compose a single song. It comes out in fits and bursts, a broken showerhead where the water pressure is too much and then not enough and suddenly, a trickle of a chord or drip of a lyric breaks through – as sure as the moon – and there, progress.

And in those seasons, she said, she must be selfish, for there is something beautiful springing forth and it requires all of her being.

And so, she might decline that work opportunity, or the volunteer position at church, and she might ignore three dozen emails that feel pressing, or timely, or important. She might quit her book club, or cancel that dinner, or reschedule a meeting. She would appear – to the outside world – distracted, unreliable, flighty. Selfish.

And yet, inside, there is a portrait being painted. There is a masterpiece being chiseled, and her job is to show up, and to allow it, and to invite it, and to pick up the paintbrush, the hammer, again and again and again.

And so, I keep practicing. I keep showing up, right here at home. I keep strumming as the laundry is piling, swaying as the dishes are dirtying, singing as the toddler tantrum is brewing. I keep allowing this to be what it is – a season of deep concentration and focus and learning, and I keep awaiting the moment that will surely arrive, when I know the music is ringing and swelling, spilling out in soundwaves and motion – far beyond myself and my family, beyond four walls and a roof.

And the crescendo will be heard in the cancelled book club, the missed event, the rescheduled dinner, and it will have been worth the wait for all of us. Because it will have grown – in pitch and intensity and tune and goodness – and we will nod our heads together, tap our feet, pour a full glass of wine.

And we will dance.

  • Erin,

    I’ve only been reading you blog for a few months now…..you’re writing is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing all the bit and pieces of your life and writing them in the most wonderful way. I look forward to every post!

    -Jackie

  • Accepting, being present – it’s a practice everyday. Thank you for this beautiful reminder. I think I’ll hear your crescendo. xoxo

  • I cannot tell you how this reflection mirrors my own process in the past months. I am so encouraged by your story and the courage you are portraying in pressing on. Thank you!

  • This post said exactly what has been in my heart the last couple of months of slowing down -practicing peace.

  • I read this a first time kind of quickly, maybe a little dismissively, and just came back to it now. My circumstances aren’t exactly the same, but I’m in a new, deep season that is isolating, that, like yours, asks so much of me. I keep thinking it should be different, that I’m somehow doing it wrong because my family life is keeping me away from other things and other relationships that I used to give my attention to – happily! And why don’t I have energy for that anymore? What’s wrong with me that I have to keep my head down and focused at home? This post made me feel not as alone. Thank you!

  • I heard Elizabeth Gilbert speak to this on a podcast recently: “I was once told that in Mandarin there are two words that both translate into “SELFISH” in English. One means “Doing something that benefits you.” The other means, “Doing something that benefits you at the expense of others.” In English, we don’t have this distinction. But there is a recognition in Chinese that these are two different notions — that it is not necessarily true that anything you do for yourself harms others. Sometimes you can do wonderful and important things for yourself without taking a thing away from another human being. This is the difference between self-care and greed. Self-care = GOOD. Greed = BAD. They are critically different. Never forget it.”

  • With a toddler, your words on “grace and gentleness” really spoke to me. Thank you. That is the energy I want to bring to as many moments as possible with my little guy. Thank you for the reminder.

  • This is gorgeous! Absolutely gorgeous! I’m not sure how I found your blog, but you are a magnificent writer! One of these days, I am going to read every post in your archive. You have such talent and grace with words. Thank you for this post!

  • Erin, this is so timely for (as it seems above!) so many of us. Your words are so true, so pure and so raw. Thank you for always being open and honest, sharing the pretty and the hard. And teaching/leading by example in between the lines.
    xo – Anna

    P.S. I am grinning with excitement for the day your book comes out.

  • This is truly, the best blog post I’ve read in a long, long time. Wonderfully subtle and yet evocative, human and yet transcending…As a nanny to four children under the age of four, I can relate to all the constant washing and feeding and drying of tears and trying to unravel the mysterious—too choked by sobs to be easily understood—that led to the shrieking and tattooing of small, sticky fists into the stone floor smudged with breakfast and dog drool. And when I come home in the blue, fledging dusk there is more cleaning (how does the mail and every other miscellaneous item always pile up so rapidly on the dining room table, is there a secret magnetic force embedded in its wood???) and cooking (everything from scratch), but then there’s the desire, the definitive decision to take myself seriously as a writer, and a dream of a studio to write in, in the old peanut factory, with weathered wide-plank floors and lead glass windows, a close walk from the harbor, an investment in a dream, which has also meant the painful decision of letting go of a few of the wonderful children I have sponsored and written letters of love and encouragement to for years, to make room (in my pocketbook, in my schedule, in my heart) for this dream, and that feels…selfish? But somehow still liberating and elating…

    • Oh, Susanna, you’re already a writer! I can tell by this comment. ;) Your dream sounds lovely, and I think sometimes we prioritize lovely things over other lovely things and I think that’s OK. I think that’s more than OK.

      Sending hope to you today. Keep writing!

  • I’ve been withdrawing lately and beating myself up about it because there is no word that I hate being called more than “selfish.” Thank you so much for this essay that made me feel understood and allowed me to let go of a little of my own pressure.

    • Oh, I totally hear you. Selfish is a crazy word, one often misconstrued, and sometimes our own pressure is far worse than others! Sending peace your way today. :)

  • I LOVE THIS! All your posts resonate with me beautifully. You have a gorgeous and articulate and gentle way with words. I can’t wait to read your book!

  • Hello, where have I been? I had tears (again) in my eyes reading this. I envy you for having kept the slowness of pace, truly. I’ve had a busy year, and have said “no” to many things but I feel like I am still out of breath. I know it’s because I’ve got two babies instead of one now, and I have to look at the slowness of life from another angle. Thank you again for writing this, Erin! Hope all is well.

    • Oh, I can only imagine what two will bring, yes! You’re right – slowness looks so different from the various angles we have, doesn’t it? Wishing you peace today. :)

  • Oh how I love your writing! I’m in a similar process now: practicing, staying attuned to what’s present and respecting (my) being. I’m kind of relearning all this actually. When yoga, mindfulness, etc. were my profession, it was so easy. Now, when I’m immersed in all this online entrepreneurship world, I find it pretty challenging to find the balance between what needs to be done and what needs to be… Thank you for this beautiful reminder. Will continue practicing :)

    • OH Madeleine, I can only relate! The Internet is an ocean, and you know how oceans can sweep us away if we’re not anchored. ;) I love that you’ve got your anchor in yoga/mindfulness – it’s a beautiful practice!

  • keep showing up…I’m borrowing this one tonight. thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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